Dozens of families and educators who spent time in the Sky Valley Education Center are suing the Monroe School District and other entities for symptoms they believe were caused by toxic chemicals in the facility.

A complaint for damages was filed in King County Superior Court on Tuesday, Jan. 2. Represented by Seattle's Friedman Ruben Law Firm, the group claims the Snohomish County Health District, State of Washington, Monsanto and its affiliated corporations are also responsible for prolonged exposure and consequent afflictions, some of which are extreme.

“The amount of love the community had for the Sky Valley program was almost used against them in a really cynical way,” said attorney Sean Gamble.

Cancers, Hashimoto's Disease, thyroid disorders, changes in skin pigmentation and peeling, nausea, dizziness and headaches have been reported by more than 100 students, teachers and parents, according to the complaint. Endocrine, autoimmune and neurological disorders, early puberty and miscarriages were also reportedly experienced.

The three mothers who spoke at a press conference Tuesday told the Monroe Monitor that figure would be higher, but administrators have discouraged people from speaking up. They are also responsible for not alerting staff and families to the risks of entering the building, they said.

The school district denies the claims. In a letter addressed to Gamble, district attorney Patricia Buchanan wrote the complaints “are not well founded.” Concerns about air quality and the health of families and teachers have been aggressively addressed since they were first brought up in the 2013-2014 school year.

“The school district has been transparent in its efforts to ensure that SVEC is a safe place for students, parents, and District employees,” she wrote.

Buchanan goes on to list the various steps taken by the school district, including collaborating with the health district and removing contaminated materials. Staff also changed cleaning procedures and companies were hired to regularly test classrooms.

Parent Jill Savery said that wasn't enough. She believes the efforts were closer to stall tactics, and used as a way to “calm the masses.” She feels angry with administrators, whom she believes were not more compassionate about her concerns and didn't have the health of their students in mind.

The complaint also states lack of enforcement played a role in the alleged poisonings. For years the health district cited the school district for subpar lighting in the building. The structure was first used as Monroe High School in the 1950s, then became Monroe Junior High and later Monroe Middle School. The SVEC — an alternative K-12 education program where parents can attend classes with their younger kids — moved into the building in 2011.

The complaint reports that ballasts, which regulate the electrical current in lights, would reportedly burst, emitting fumes and dripping liquids that contained polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) — a now banned inorganic compound associated with environmental and human health risks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA estimates by 1975 about 400 million pounds of the chemical had entered the environment, according to the complaint. PCBs decompose slowly and are very damaging, even in low concentrations.

Monsanto was the only commercial producer of the chemical between the 1930s and up until the late 1970s. The complaint states the company manufactured and sold the product despite knowing how dangerous it was. Profits played a role in Monsanto’s decision not to properly promote risks to the public, the complaint states, which is one reason why it remained in the school district's buildings for so long.

Gamble said this case is not unique to Monroe.

As many as 14 million children in roughly 20,000 schools nationwide may be exposed to PCBs, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study referenced in the complaint.

Children are most susceptible to the toxins, according to the complaint. The chemicals can be inhaled, ingested and absorbed by touch. They can be found in electrical transformers, carried by dust and permeate furniture and other materials.

Duct tape was placed over a stain caused by a leaking ballast at SVEC at one point, according to the complaint. Had the health district or state enforced the minimum lighting requirements, those same fixtures would have been replaced potentially decades ago, according to the complaint. Families would not have been poisoned, or as affected by the PCBs.

“The school district can't undo the damage it did to these families,” Gamble said.

Buchanan's letter states the school district acted as soon as the first health concerns were reported. Asbestos, water and air quality studies were conducted by a Seattle-based consulting agency in 2016.  PBS Engineering and Environmental Inc. concluded cleaning, housekeeping, organizing, labeling and chemical storage methods needed to be addressed. Switching out light fixtures and caulking that had PCBs would be necessary.

The PBS assessment also concluded that a combination of ineffective heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), mold, chemicals, PCB-containing light fixtures, dust and asbestos were much to blame for the reported illnesses, as well as various other factors.

Nearly $1.2 million in renovations were completed at the school in the summer 2016. The health district had also issued other remediation requirements in April 2016, including age restrictions and access for pregnant mothers in specified areas.

Seven spaces in the center were shut down last March following test results that came back strikingly high in December 2016. The school district expected those results were false positives. If the EPA believed the data was actually of concern, no one of any age would be allowed in the areas, “the numbers are so likely not accurate,” said Monroe School District superintendent Fredrika Smith at the time.

She also said the first concerns raised were largely related to respiratory functions, such as sneezing, itchy and watering eyes, “much like a severe cold.” Gamble said that was a false statement and that she had known for a year that reports were far more severe.

Savery said the school community has largely been divided into two camps — those who believe the building is causing the maladies and those who don't. She and the other mothers involved in the suit say they have experienced retaliation and lost many friends in the process.

Former SVEC Spanish teacher Stacey Mullen-DeLand said she is still experiencing complications years after she last set foot in the school. Nodules remain in her lungs, and a doctor confirmed they were the result of recent exposure to chemicals; it is uncertain if her son will have a thyroid disorder for the rest of his life. Mullen-DeLand said she has seen her daughter with bloody noses so severe she was afraid she might bleed to death.

Five separate medical professionals told her they were having a reaction to chemicals, she said, adding a Seattle Children's Hospital doctor told her she has seen a slew of patients from SVEC since the renovations were complete,.

“It has not yet stopped affecting my life,” said former SVEC mother Arica Smith-Simmer, who also left the school years ago.

In Buchanan's letter she writes that each claimant is seeking $20 million. Savery said the lawsuit is not about monetary gain, but to hold those accountable for putting her family and others in a situation without them knowing the risks.

She said if she could go back, she would never have stepped inside the building, despite how much she loved the program.